As much press as there has been about edible flowers lately, there have been chortles from seemingly the same people regarding the trendiness of it all. For the most part, it is fair criticism. There is a lot of use of flowers without context and some places are insisting on having a little flower shower with every dish. Like those who toss gold lead or truffles left and right, the natural reaction is to make fun (except truffles, chefs if someone chuckles at your truffles, send them my way).
I get the chef’s side too. These flowers are not only edible, but beautiful. In Chicago, once Spring has sprung, most of us long for food that is colorful, not the deep gray and brown tones that seemingly overrun our city in the long Winter. We have a short growing season and what better way to add a splash of color to a dish than tossing some marigold, borage, or other edible flower on it.
After adding an extra window box to my herb garden, I had space so I jumped on the bandwagon too and grew both herbs and edible flowers. In the beginning, I was tossing them indiscriminately on everything as well. It was fun and beautiful. They did not taste half bad too boot, but finally I wanted to find context for their uses and use them respectfully.
Through the buying (and watering) process, I had tasted the flowers and had an idea of what their flavors were. I knew that pansies were mild and colorful, that marigolds were sharp and peppery, and that borage tasted like cucumber. The borage was the first edible that I really got hooked on.
It is a bright blue color and is one of the only things edible that is actually blue. To me, they taste just like a cucumber. With cucumbers in season, we had cucumbers, homemade vinegar, borage, and chilis on a weekly basis. The marigolds were through into red cabbage coleslaw as an offsetting color and to add that peppery flavor. Finally, the most traditional (and abundant) edible that we had was the nasturtium.
The colorful flowers catch your eye and, even in this heat (oh, the heat!!), there are orange and yellow flowers seemingly everywhere, but after tasting the buds, I immediately thought of capers. The pungent, peppery flavor would be excellent pickled, so before a vacation, I brined all the buds that I could find along with some of the flowers (as an experiment) to see if they could approximate capers.
Without a long, lacto-fermented pickling process, the approximate answer is they are not exactly capers, but they are something that you should eat. The pickling brine had cloves, star anise, and horseradish. After sitting in the brine for a few weeks, I added the pickled nasturtium buds and flowers with spaghetti squash, walnuts, pecorino, and shaved ham rind. Initially, I did not think that the pickle added anything, but it was only because my first two bites had no nasturtium. Just the luck of the fork.
Once I got one, it was like a mini-burst of pickle. The peppery notes are enhanced and they must soak a lot of brine into that little bud. With a dish like squash, cheese, and nuts, you kind of have rich on rich on rich, so the tart pickle burst was really welcomed. Due a big surplus of flowers, I added a few to the bowl as well. Contextually, it now had purpose and it added a burst of color to boot. And to the chortlers, more for me. I’ll take your artichoke, saffron, and squash blossom as well.
No seriously. Give them to me.
Pickled Nasturtium Buds
- 3 ounces white wine vinegar
- 2 ounces water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon horseradish root
- 2 cloves
- 1/2 star anise
Step one: Combine brine ingredients in a pot. Boil. Remove from heat.
Step two: Pour hot brine over nasturtium buds in a jar. Top with flowers. Twist on cap and toss in the fridge for 7-10 days.